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This study was performed to document the progression of ischemic brain damage after middle cerebral artery occlusion in the rat using magnetic resonance imaging and histopathologic methods.Cerebral ischemia was induced through permanent tandem occlusion of ipsilateral middle cerebral and common carotid arteries. The evolution of magnetic resonance imaging and histopathologic parameter changes was studied, both short term (1.5 to 8 hours) and long term (24 to 168 hours), in five specific brain regions within the middle cerebral artery territory.Significant changes in proton nuclear magnetic resonance spin-lattice and spin-spin relaxation times and the “apparent” diffusion coefficient of water could be detected within hours after the onset of permanent focal cerebral ischemia, whereas significant alterations in proton spin-density ratios were not apparent until approximately 48 hours. Histological changes were evident within 12 hours, with a significant loss of neurons seen in the most severely damaged regions at 7 days. Diffusion-weighted imaging was the most sensitive technique for visualizing acute ischemic alterations. The water diffusion coefficient was the only magnetic resonance imaging parameter studied to indicate significant alterations within the first 4 hours after arterial occlusion in all five brain regions.The degree of change for a particular magnetic resonance imaging parameter appeared to be related to the location and extent of neuronal injury, with the most dramatic changes occurring within the areas displaying the most severe histological damage. These results indicate that complete specification of all brain regions affected by ischemic brain injury may require a combination of imaging strategies applied over a period of days and suggest the possibility of using magnetic resonance imaging to distinguish between permanent and reversible cell damage.